Redefining Performance Art: Sia’s intricate display of vulnerability

 Photo: Idolator

Photo: Idolator

After being catapulted into commercial success following her 2014 hit, Chandelier, Sia has managed to do what others in her field cannot: uphold an uncompromised standard of privacy and anonymity in the midst of superstardom. After a career spanning nearly two decades, the Australian-born singer reached her first number one on the Hot 100 chart with Cheap Thrills, off of her seventh studio album. With the broadening of her horizons, the singer has further challenged herself by embarking on her current Nostalgic for the Present Tour, mostly featuring songs from her newest album, This Is Acting.

As a person who has long struggled with (and sang about) living with anxiety and depression, her announcement to go on tour came as an exciting surprise to many of her fans, leaving them all wondering how she would continue to obscure her face. Following the release of 1000 Forms of Fear, the album preceding This Is Acting, Sia’s performance tactics matured into refined pieces of art. Heartfelt writing coupled with her hauntingly beautiful voice and expressive contemporary dances marked the era of performance art in mainstream music.

When the lights of the Air Canada Centre dimmed and the stage lights came on, Sia appeared in the middle of a blank canvas stage setup, wearing what appeared to be a trembling dress. Her feathered gown expanded and dancers sprang forth, one of them being the impeccable Maddie Ziegler, and Sia began the show with a rendition of Alive.

The nearly 80-minute set went on to follow this similar pattern, with each song being accompanied by emotional, amusing, or saddening dance pieces. While the crowd was fixated on the stories told through movement, nothing could compete with the sheer power and range of Sia’s voice. Laden with emotion, every note struck far and deep within the hearts of those in attendance.

It became clear early on in the show that these performances were not simply art for art’s sake. As the set list unfolded, so did a clear and cohesive story line. Besides Sia’s singing prowess, what makes her music spellbinding is the beauty of emotion that it denotes, making the darkest of subjects shine magnificently. The singer powered through Reaper, with a back-and-forth dance that comically teased the struggle between life and death. For Big Girls Cry, Maddie Ziegler took to the stage alone and enacted how the self-esteem issues known all too well by young women of her age can leave harrowing marks.

Once Sia had done a thorough job of leaving everyone moved by raw emotion, the tone changed and the performances became brighter with lively dancing. Cheap Thrills had everyone on their feet, ready to dance. The empowering statement that was Elastic Heart made the audience see what it was to come alive after being knocked down, and the struggle that it is to break out of the cages in our minds.

To say that the Nostalgic for the Present Tour is unique is a gross understatement. Sia and her legacy to the industry are a gift to music lovers and concertgoers everywhere. Every song, every dance move defines the story of her. The vulnerability she displays has elevated modern pop music to undiscovered heights of depth and meaning. Sia’s performance was not just music, and it was not just a concert; it was art.